Florida men arrested for stealing veterans’ remains for religious rituals

Police arrested two men for allegedly desecrating the graves of several deceased veterans in a Florida cemetery and stealing their remains for use in religious rituals.

Brian Tolentino, 43, and Juan Burgos-Lopez, 39, are accused of stealing the remains of four separate graves at a cemetery in Mount Dora, Fla., On December 6. according to to a press release from the Polk Country Sheriff’s Office.

Burgos-Lopez was arrested on Wednesday after PCSO detectives searched his Lake Wales home and discovered “a shed with a religious shrine” containing seven skulls, four of which Burgos-Lopez and Tolentino admitted to having removed from graves on Mount Dora .

“The shed / shrine contained cauldrons filled with soil and other items such as bones, sticks, feathers, stones, turtle shells and skulls of small animals, as well as human skulls.” according to at PCSO.

The suspects told law enforcement they used the human remains as part of their practice of Palo Mayombe, a West African-derived religion that “specifically involves … the use of human remains placed in ritual cauldrons “. according to to a March 2015 issue of the academic journal International forensic science.

According to the PCSO, the suspects told detectives that they chose the graves of veterans “because their religion requires the remains to come from those who” did something heroic. “

The remains were identified as Henry Brittain, an Army soldier and Korean War veteran; Elbert Carr, Army sergeant and World War I veteran; and Calvin McNair, a former Marine Corps military policeman who was buried in his sartorial blues.

The suspects also removed the remains of Annie Faniel, “a good Samaritan and guardian”.

Burgos-Lopez, who owns a store that sells herbs and essential oils “as well as items used in Palo rituals,” identified himself as a “Tata,” or religious leader, and regularly produces YouTube videos on various Palo Mayombe rituals.

Tolentino is a convicted felon with previous arrests for possession of cocaine, possession of drugs with intent to distribute, robbery, and armed robbery at a bank in 2000.

Featured Image: Brian Tolentino Juan Burgos-Lopez (Polk Country Sheriff’s Office)

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Ruth R. Culp